Riding to the rescue of wounded warriors, disabled
From the first day that Richard Marlow walked into Oregon Citys Sycamore Lane Therapeutic Riding Center he saw minor miracles going on all around me.
Marlow saw children and adults with a variety of disabilities, instructors and horses all working together to promote the benefits of equine therapy.
And now Marlow, an Oregon City High School graduate and the development director at the center since this past February, wants to share that miracle and promote the center through a run/walk, set for Sunday, July 28, starting at Clackamette Park.
He is calling the event the First Warrior Run, Walk & Roll for three reasons. First, the center has initiated a new therapy program called equine-facilitated psychotherapy, aimed at returning veterans with physical disabilities and traumatic-stress issues, and second, the run will benefit the Wounded Warrior Project, a national organization set up to help soldiers in a variety of ways.
The roll part of the event title reflects the fact that the entire route for the run/walk is wheelchair accessible.
Marlow came up with the idea for the event because he was looking for more open-ended ways of funding events that could get bigger year after year.
Describing himself as a one-man committee, Marlow has secured all the road permits from the Oregon Department of Transportation and the cities of Oregon City and Gladstone, in order to establish the best routes for the run/walk.
The event begins at Clackamette Park in Oregon City, goes along the Clackamas River Trail on the Oregon City side and then crosses the bridge into Gladstones Cross Park. Participants doing the 5K walk will then turn around and go back to Oregon City.
Runners who want to do five miles will extend their route by moving along the Willamette Trail, passing the sculptures on the riverfront near downtown Oregon City, and then turn around to finish up back at Clackamette Park.
One unique aspect of the event is that the entire thing will be filmed, using cameras from public-access station Willamette Television, and participants will be able to buy still photos afterward. This came about because Marlow is a longtime TV producer, who said he was best known for Fishing the West, a program that ran for more than 16 years.
Marlow hopes to draw at least 200 participants to the event, which he said will benefit two worthy organizations.
Money raised during the run/walk will help make Sycamore Lanes equine-facilitated psychotherapy program available to more local veterans. In addition, it will help the Wounded Warrior Project.
That should appeal to a lot of people. You cant help feeling for those young men and women coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq with beat-up bodies and learning disabilities, he said.
Roots of Sycamore Lane
Sycamore Lane Therapeutic Riding Center was founded in 2008 by Dr. Suzanne Cleland-Zamudio, a Portland-area physician-surgeon, who grew up on the Clackamas River Drive property when it was called the Sycamore Lane Welsh Pony Farm.
She has a son who is autistic, and she understands the benefits of equine therapy, said Michelle Bianchi, program director at the center.
When Cleland-Zamudio couldnt find anyone in the area doing this kind of work, it became her dream to open a facility where a lot of people would benefit from equine therapy.
The mission of the Sycamore Lane Therapeutic Riding Center is to provide and promote therapeutic riding and recreation in a safe, professional and nurturing environment to children and adults with a variety of physical and cognitive disabilities, Bianchi said.
When the center first opened there were only six riders now there are 60. Bianchi has been with the center for two-and-a-half years, starting as a volunteer and working her way up to program director.
Bianchi grew up riding horses from the age of 5, and then put that activity on the back burner when she started college, getting a degree in kinesiology, which focuses on the movement of the body.
She also earned a teaching certificate and taught adaptive physical education at the elementary and secondary level in California. When she moved to Oregon three years ago, she had difficulty finding a job, so began volunteering at Sycamore Lane.
When I volunteered here, it opened my eyes to the potential opportunities for using my horse background and my teaching experience, Bianchi said.
In addition to being program director at the center, she also is an instructor and the Oregon state chairman of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, an organization that certifies all instructors in equine therapy.
Variety of therapies
There are three kinds of therapeutic work offered at the center, Bianchi said.
The first is called therapeutic riding. Children and adults with a variety of physical, mental and emotional disabilities can learn horseback-riding skills, with the goal of becoming independent riders. Skills include strength training, balance, sensory integration and spatial awareness.
Hippotherapy is taught by an occupational therapist, a speech pathologist or a physical therapist with the goal to treat the client using the horse as a tool. There are no riding skills, Bianchi said.
For example, an occupational therapist might have the client walk beside the horse, holding onto the reins, thus teaching fine motor skills that can translate into daily life, she said.
Equine-facilitated psychotherapy is focused on veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder or other anxiety issues, and participants do not learn any horseback-riding skills. Instead, they work on the ground with the horses and a psychotherapist. The horse mirrors a persons emotions, Bianchi said, adding that this kind of therapy can help with boundary setting and relieving depression.
Bianchi hopes the run/walk is a success, and thinks that the event is a great opportunity for people to know us and find out what we do. Our goal is to fund some research that shows that this form of alternative therapy works. A lot of people are skeptical, but this is more than just a pony ride.
We want to reach more veterans, as they are underserved and in great need.
Some medical insurance may pay for hippotherapy, Bianchi said, but the center does offer some of the other therapies at a discounted rate. The support of donors and participants in the run/walk will help fund scholarships for the other therapy programs.
Twelve working horses are housed at the shelter, most of them donated to the program, Bianchi said, adding that most of the horses are on the small side, since volunteers walk alongside the horses when they are used for therapy.
Not every horse is good for therapy. They have to have the right attitude and also have to like their job, she said.
One notable equine is Buster, a handsome, dark-eyed former racehorse that was rescued from Portland Meadows after he broke both front legs.
We rescued him, and he wears special shoes that are like horsey slippers, Bianchi said, adding that Buster gets an anti-inflammatory medication every day because of his injuries.
He is a good example to the clients at the center, Bianchi said, because he illustrates that even if you have a disability you can still participate and have a happy life.
Run, Walk & Roll
What: First Annual Warrior Run, Walk & Roll
When: Sunday, July 28; registration begins at 7 a.m. at Clackamette Park in Oregon City; the 5K or 5-mile run/walk begins at 8 a.m.
Details: Entry fee is $40, but the event is free for children under 12. The entire route is wheelchair accessible. The event is sponsored by Sycamore Lane Therapeutic Riding Center, in association with the Wounded Warrior Project. Proceeds fund an equine-based mental health and learning program for veterans and others with disabilities.
To register for the First Annual Warrior Run, Walk & Roll and to learn more about Sycamore Lane Therapeutic Riding Center, visit sycamorelane.org or call 503-593-7084.
To learn more about the Wounded Warrior Project, visit woundedwarriorproject.org.